Adam Silvera's prequel is another emotional roller-coaster as readers follow two young protagonists on what's predicted to be a death day. While it's not necessary to read the first book to understand the prequel, knowing the stories and characters of They Both Die at the End will add not only context but a deeper layer of meaning to several of the cameos from the original tale. Silvera's two new main characters, Valentino and Orion, walk readers through the shock, awe, horror, and acceptance of Death-Cast's first calls. Various characters have dedicated chapters, including the enigmatic founder of Death-Cast who keeps the way he can predict someone's final day a secret. It's an unanswered question in both books, but it's still fascinating to witness the creator's unfailing commitment to the importance of notifying "Deckers" that they're going to die. Some of the points of view are uncomfortable and unlikable -- like the unfeeling Death Cast operator whose trick to calling people is to consider them already dead, or Valentino's greedy, exploitative, and abusive super who hopes to capture a Decker's death on camera in order to sell it. But Orion and Valentino are both vibrant, kind, and oddly hopeful for doomed lovers.
As readers familiar with the first book will expect, The First to Die in the End explores philosophical and mature themes including faith, grief, intimate partner abuse, first love, trauma (Orion's an orphan), and the importance of trusted friends and found family. Identity is also highlighted, since Valentino and Orion are both gay. While Orion is out and supported by his adoptive family, Valentino's religious parents disowned him. Their relationship manages to develop organically, even if it's clear their first day together will also be their last. That the romance doesn't feel like insta love despite it lasting roughly 24 hours is an example of the author's skills. Silvera has said that there's a third Death-Cast scheduled for 2024, and readers who pay attention will be able to spot who the next pairing will focus on. Until then, this prequel is just what fans wanted, a return to the alternate-universe New York, where even on your last day alive, you can find friendship and love.